Elon Musk and the Infinite Sadness

Elon Musk speaking at TED2013

Elon Musk speaking at TED2013

Jackson Sroka, Contributing Writer

In a world plagued by war, disease, famine, and god knows what else, tech billionaire Elon Musk recently decided that enough was enough, and spent $44 billion USD on a social media website. 

Elon Musk, who threw some money at Paypal, stood next to a Tesla at some point, and was there for at least one SpaceX Launch, is no stranger to controversy. From harmless things like giving his children ridiculous names, to publicly telling Ukraine to concede to Russian demands (via a Twitter poll nonetheless). He has seen it all. He presents himself as this genius figure, but do any amount of background research on the guy, and you will find story after story of him making baseless claims about subjects he knows nothing about; often with hilarious responses from the actual experts he tries to impersonate.

When he is not baselessly accusing British divers responsible for the rescue of 13 children of being pedophiles, or completely ignoring the point of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, he spends much of his time preaching his wisdom on Twitter. He has been active on the site since 2010, and now has over 113 million followers. From this platform, he gives his “disciples” bits of wisdom from the inner workings of his complex mind, such as tweeting “Pronouns suck” (12:21 pm, July 24, 2020), or calling former Harvard law professor and 2 time US Senator Elizabeth Warren “Senator Karen” (3:49 pm, December 14, 2021) for daring to say the billionaire with a net worth of over $209 billion USD should pay more in taxes.

Twitter has recently come under a lot of flack over free speech. With the rise of racism and hate speech worldwide, Twitter finds itself in an awkward position of trying to strike a balance between free speech, and preventing the spread of hate speech from both internet trolls and organizations with genuine malicious intent. Despite their best efforts, Mr. Musk was not satisfied with the state of his favorite site and decided it was time to take matters into his own hands. Under his leadership, Twitter would enter a new golden age of freedom and gone would be the shackles of the past;you can now say what you wanted to without fear of repression! This point was driven home on May 10, 2022, when he said he would reverse the ban of impeached former president Donald Trump, who was banned from the site for  publicly calling for the violent overthrow of the US government. (Admittedly, Musk has since gone back on this comment, claiming Trump would remain banned, at least for the time being.)

In a series of Twitter polls starting earlier this year, Musk began hinting at his motives of buying the site, before officially tweeting on April 14, 2022, at 7:23 pm that he had made an offer to purchase Twitter. This deal would be for $43 billion USD, and negotiations continued over the next few months. However in early June he likely realized that spending a comically large amount of money on a site with a dying user base and tanking stock value, and much like his promise to donate $6 billion to the United Nations for world hunger (13% of how much he was willing to spend on Twitter), tried and back out of this deal. However, unlike the United Nations World Hunger Drive, Twitter would not have any of this and sued him, forcing him to complete the sale for $44 billion USD.

So what happens now? Musk began by firing most of Twitter’s board of directors and senior officers. Hopefully this time, none of them will be falsely blamed for mass shooting threats or other crimes, like what Musk accused Tesla whistleblower Martin Tripp of after he leaked documents regarding Tesla’s misuse of raw materials in 2018. This now means Musk essentially is the sole decision maker for Twitter, and he has already begun cracking down on any employees or accounts who dare make fun of him. He has also made further promises to lay off 50% of Twitter’s current staff (only approximately 3750 people). Not that this is anything new to him: earlier this year he also laid off 3.5% of Tesla’s workforce, and back in 2019 he laid off 10% of SpaceX’s staff. Those lucky, or unlucky, enough to remain may also be forced to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Then again, a person who has Congolese children working in his cobalt mines most likely does not care very much about the well-being of his workers. 

But enough of the negatives, how about some positive things here! What about the free speech Musk promised to the site’s users? Well uh, you can edit tweets now. That is good I guess? Verified users will now have to pay a monthly subscription of $8 to keep their precious blue checkmark. In response to this, legendary horror writer Stephen King said, “Fuck that, they should pay me.” Musk also said he is going to reduce the amount of advertising on the site, which may sound good until he realizes 90% of Twitter’s revenue comes from advertising. But at least free speech is good, right? Well, according to a report by the Washing Post, the use of the n-word on Twitter spiked 500% in the first 12 hours after his acquisition. Another report by the Anti-Defamation League, an international organization specializing in Jewish civil rights, found that over 1,200 blatantly anti-Semitic tweets made in two day period on Thursday and Friday were still up the following Monday. Say what you will about Musk, he knows how to appeal to his fanbase.

If one thing has been made clear here, it is that Mr. Musk has no clue what he is doing. On the first day alone, he had all the recent code physically printed out for him to review, which unless he is Neo from The Matrix, is not at all how coding works. Musk trumps himself up as this genius: a real-life Tony Stark. The difference being while Stark’s journey began trapped in an Afghani cave by terrorists, Musk’s cave was full of emeralds and owned by his father during Apartheid-era South Africa. In case you did not know, his “self-made billionaire” backstory is a facade too. In fact, his whole persona is a facade really. He did not create Tesla, he bought the company a year after they were founded. And it is a similar deal with SpaceX — despite being the face of the company and claiming to be the lead designer, he has no actual qualifications in engineering. His persona is just a facade hiding who he really is, another rich kid playing around with his daddy’s money.

The question I ask is why? Why is this the path you choose to go down? I will not deny, companies like Tesla and SpaceX have had significant impacts on the world. Tesla’s technology helped bring electric cars to the forefront of the automotive industry, and SpaceX’s partnership with NASA has made several milestones in space exploration. He might not be the scientific mind behind it, but Musk was able to finance all of these projects. He has enormous influence, so why is this what he does with it? Twitter? That is the best you can do? He could follow the lead of other billionaires like Bill Gates who are actually making a positive difference in the world. With his wealth and influence, Musk could do so much good. Finding cures for diseases, helping end world hunger, or funding global education. But instead, he wastes his time with something as trivial as a website. And that is all it is, trivial, by the time you read this, chances are he will have caused some new controversy over his management. It is big news now, but eventually, he will move on to some new project. Eventually, people will forget this ever happened, and the whole incident will fade into obscurity as a new story takes center stage.

Musk has stated many times his love for Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ridley Scott’s later film adaptation Bladerunner. For a story entirely about the nature of what makes us human, he seems to largely ignore that point, rather focusing on and praising the sci-fi elements that make up its dystopian world. In a way that is what this whole Twitter situation is. Instead of using his wealth to genuinely help others, and do something that will have an actual positive long-term impact on the world, he is obsessed with the sci-fi fantasy of a has-been social media site, one quickly disintegrating into a microcosm of the dystopian world Phillip K. Dick wrote about. Perhaps he should have listened more to the words of the film, and realized that “all those moments, will be lost in time like tears in rain…”